Retired basketball coach Mark Seeberg dives into 3-pointers and how they have — and haven’t — changed college basketball.

The NCAA rules committee recently extended the college 3-point arc from 20 feet, 9 inches to the current international distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches. This raises some interesting questions.

Will shooting percentages at the longer distance remain sufficient to pull defenders even farther from the basket, opening the floor for more dribble drives, as the committee hopes? Will this curb the game’s growing emphasis on the 3-pointer, leading to a greater variety in offensive style and strategy? Will players who lack long-range proficiency rediscover the value of the pull-up, midrange jumper?

The 3-pointer hasn’t always been the panacea that rule-makers intended. It was introduced to reverse the steady decline in scoring that had become the norm by the mid-1980’s, and to create the possibility of an exciting late-game changer. Yet overall scoring today is still five points lower than its high forty-nine years ago. Last season college teams attempted 12 more shots beyond the arc than teams did in 1986–87, the first year of the 3-pointer, but averaged .09 fewer points. 

Overall scoring today is still five points lower than its high forty-nine years ago.

The most telling trend of all—one largely ignored by the media—isn’t the decline in the total number of points scored, but in the number of field goals attempted and made. If you watched a typical college game last season, you saw about the same number of baskets as your father or grandfather saw back in the early 1950s (an era when many players were still shooting one and two-handed set shots).

Wondering what has changed? The definition of a midrange jumper. Many popular analytic sites use “play-by-play” game logs as their fundamental source of information. Unfortunately, play-by-play logs compress all shot attempts into three locations, starting with the two extremes: shots at the rim and three-pointers. Everything in between is considered a midrange jump shot. A 12’ baby jumper is statistically treated the same as a shot attempt just inside the arc. 

Most teams today have a no midrange game. In fact, several generations of players have come and gone without ever mastering a 12’ jumper or simple bank shot from the wing. The vast majority of today’s young coaches never played in the midrange themselves, have no knowledge of how to coach it, and don’t understand the sets and schemes that produce it. 

Once today’s guards get into an area 10’- 15’ feet from the basket, they force their way to the rim and if denied, attempt to pitch the ball to the outside in hopes of a 3-pointer. It’s all predetermined because they lack the confidence to pull up in traffic and hit the short jumper. There’s no third option. Defenses, of course, aren’t stupid. They invite the midrange pull-up by taking away the either/or game, forcing the attacker to take the one shot he is coached to avoid, he seldom practices, and has no confidence in making.

Here’s an interesting experiment.

Take any given college game and convert its 3-point field goals to their pre-1986 value of two. In other words, pretend the 3-point arc doesn’t exist. No matter where you are on the floor, you get two points for every shot you make.

What happens to the outcome of the game? Does the winner still win?

On the heels of this year’s postseason tourney, I ran this experiment. And guess what? The winners and losers stayed the same.

The winners and losers of this year's postseason tournament stayed the same when 3-pointers only counted for two points.

Not a single winner in the final 15 games of the tournament was determined by its ability to shoot the three. The only thing that changed was the margin of victory. In nine contests, the margin fell, in five games it actually increased, and in one it stayed the same.

I’m not convinced the NCAA has extended the line far enough to accomplish its goals. How about you?

Mark Seeberg was an assistant basketball coach at Loyola Academy in the powerful Chicago Catholic League for nearly twenty years. He was also a student trainer for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team during the Austin Carr era, 1967–71. Today, Seeberg runs a blog on college basketball, Better than a layup.